I’ve been debating it for about a year now, would she want to run or not? “She” is our Mindy (her racing name is Puzzle Patch), an almost four year old retired racer. Mindy had a very short career on the track, primarily due the the closure of the tracks in MA. But, I digress, back to our story.
Mindy came to us when she was about 18 months old, she was born on 7/7/07 and we adopted her in January of 2009. She had not fully matured yet, while she was always a big boned dog she has filled out (note: not fattened up) and she is a beautiful example of a well formed NGA Greyhound and in reality could probably do well in an AKC event as well.
About a year ago I was invited to attend the LGRA/NOTRA nationals in New Jersey and watch some high quality amateur racing. I spent a fun-filled day watching pups run for the fun of running and the pride that the owners of these dogs had regardless of their pup winning or loosing. I also left with the opinion that I should have brought Mindy to see if she would want to run. See, I am a firm believer in that no dog is ever forced to run, you cannot force an animal to do things it doesn’t want to do. Dogs especially have a streak of stubbornness that will outlast your desire to convince them to do anything.
At that meet I met some members of Granite State Greyhounds, an amateur racing club from New Hampshire. They are the closest group to Connecticut at this time (though I would love to change that) and they hold 4 or 5 meets per year. It took me over the winter and through the Spring to decide if I would take one of my pups to compete. Then, early in June 2011 I glanced at their calendar online and noticed that they had an event scheduled for the weekend of June 11th and 12th. I sent a note to the racing secretary and asked about the possibility of bringing Mindy for a practice run or two. I had never seen her run and wanted to see if she would want to.
Well, I was not sure about it until the morning of the 11th, I actually was sitting having my morning coffee when I looked at the time and decided to take Mindy to New Hampshire. We quickly loaded up the necessities: directions, her pet registration paperwork from the NGA, water, her muzzle, an extra leash, and of course Mindy. On the road we went for a two-hour drive to New Hampshire.
By the time we got off of I-495 at the exit for Essex, NH Mindy had fallen asleep in the back of the car, and when she felt the car go onto the side roads she started to watch more closely where we were going. Following the directions and getting lost twice I finally turned into the parking lot at the race site. I was still very hesitant but decided to see what happened. It was a grass air-strip next to an old barn. I parked in the grass parking lot under some trees. Also, it was raining. As I was shutting off the car, Mindy suddenly stood straight up, ears as straight as she can make them, spun around and looked at the field. A race had just started and she must have heard the lure or the starting box.
I did my usual, grabbed her leash and walked around the side of the car to put her leash on while blocking the door so she could not escape without the leash. It was more difficult than ever because she wanted OUT. I got her leashed and because everyone was busy with the race I walked over to a tree that was at a good view-point next to the starting boxes. I watched Mindy’s reaction and suddenly realized she was fixated on one object, and one object only – the lure laying on the ground in front of the box ready for the next race. I still didn’t know her level of interest, and writing this now there is no way I would have known. Until the next race started.
Mindy watched very intently as the next racers, three Italian Greyhounds, were put into the starting box. She stood there and watched as the starter shook the lure in front of the box, and she continued to watch as the lure started moving and the box opened. I suddenly had Mindy’s leash wrapped around me, Mindy standing up on two hind legs pulling to try to get onto the field. She was a quivering and a shaking and her eyes and ears were on the lure. Nothing else seemed to matter. It took me a few minutes to get her calmed down and back under control. We did that through the next two races.
After a few races one of the race organizers came over to me and asked who Mindy was, and then she recognized me from my email and conversations on Facebook. She wanted to know if Mindy wanted to take a practice run between the program. I said we would try. I still wasn’t sure if Mindy would get into the starting box or not. Well, at the program break they needed to re-charge the battery on the coursing machine as the lure was wet and heavy and it was wearing the battery down faster than normal. Also, because Mindy was a greyhound and a track dog, they wanted to make sure it would be as fast as she might be – would not be good for the dog to catch the lure mid-track. While that was going on I walked Mindy to the starting box to gauge her reaction. She walked around it, sniffed it, and then pawed at the door on the back of it where she would be loaded. I remember thinking, “OK this may work.” We went back to the car to get her muzzle and the spare leash so someone could catch and leash her at the other end of the track.
After a little bit, and Mindy getting impatient (I could almost hear her saying, “come on.. what’s the hold up, I want to run already…) we got her ready to go into the box. As we went to the box she was pulling towards the box, and her ears were all perked up and she was more focused than I had ever seen her. Faced with the open hole it took her a little to actually get into it. Didn’t have to force her at all, but had to guide her. No major issue. And she was quiet once inside the box. The lure started to move and the starter opened the box, and Mindy was out! She hit her full stride within two dog lengths from the box and moved faster than I had ever seen her move. She had one focus, she was going to get that lure!
It is too bad that greyhound races are so short because it seemed like almost no time that she was up and over the small hill in the course and she was out of site heading towards the finish line. We realized then that there was no-one at the end of the course to catch her. The group members that had watched her run told me not to worry about it and to just go down and get her because she would be at the lure. I was still very worried because of the “law of adoption” never to let the dog off a leash in an un-fenced area. So, off down the course I jogged - took me a whole lot longer than it took Mindy. Sure enough I found her, with her two front feet on the lure and she was sort of looking at me, “what took you so long daddy?” I put the leash back on her, picked up the lure and started walking her back to the starting point. She still was eyeing the lure as if saying, “come on – put it down again.” She was a little out of breath, I walked her around for a while, offered her water, and put her back in the car to rest for a little bit.
Near the end of the following program, they asked if I wanted to let her run another race. I went and looked at her and she was in good shape, not breathing heavy, and standing up and watching all the activity around her. So, we put her muzzle on and took her back over to the starting box. She was PULLING at the leash and quivering trying to get to the box. So, this time one of the other people asked if I wanted to go down to the end of the course to catch her and she would get her into the box at the starting area. I said, “yes.” So, down to the end of the track I went. I was able to see her being loaded, I was able to see the lure start moving, and then the box opened. Out came Mindy with a break (the point at which the dog comes out of the box and reaches full stride) better than her first try. I wish I had time to take a picture. There is nothing that I have ever seen like my Mindy coming down the grass track, up and over the little incline, at full gallop. Remember as greyhounds run they have all four feet up off the ground two times during every full pace. They are literally flying down the track. I had never seen her run at full speed before and it was wonderful to see.
The lure came across the finish line, Mindy came across the finish line and the lure continues a little past that point. The lure slowed down to a stop, Mindy put on her brakes, which included sliding almost ten feet on the wet grass and kicking up grass clippings so she was covered in them. And she was playing with the lure before she put her two front feet on it and looked at me. On went the leash and we walked the lure and pup back towards the starting boxes. Mindy needed a walk to cool her down and let her stop panting.
After we cooled down we were invited back to the next day’s program which would have consisted of the greyhounds racing because everyone thought Mindy was ready to race against another hound. I said I would have to think about it and would email the racing secretary that evening. It was raining so heavily that we left and headed back to Connecticut. On the way home Mindy slept! Didn’t even move when we pulled into the driveway.
I got her out of the car and into the house, I noticed her muscles were a little stiff, it took her a little to walk up the stairs. This really did not surprise me, while we take all of our retirees on two miles of walking every day this is more than she has actually run in two years. I would be a little sore as well. So, over the next few hours I rubbed her back legs a number of times and tried to massage the muscles to relax them the way I would do mine after a long run. That seemed to work because the next morning she was much more comfortable and she was back to her old self. That evening based on the fact she was sore I wrote the racing secretary an email saying that I would not be up the next day for her to run, I felt that as they would have done on the track, she needed a day of rest and relaxation. I think running a dog at full speed, two days in a row is just asking for injury and I wasn’t going to take the chance.
Will we go back for the meet in August? Hell yes! She had a good time and I am right now trying to find racing jackets so that she has the required gear. I am also trying to find a lure that is closer to what they use so that I can practice with her in the meantime. I have a track lure but it is a different configuration. Additionally I am going to start working with her a little in the back yard and see if I can get her stamina up. Still have to figure out how I will make that work. She is also going to have to loose a few pounds, but she needs to do that anyways. She has now spent all day following me around, and if I go outside she has been going to look and see if her muzzle is still on the table. I may be going someplace good without her.
And, we are both looking forward to the next meet in August.